Woody Herman

Woody Herman

Herman in 1949
Background information
Birth name Woodrow Charles Herman
Also known as Road Father
Born (1913-05-16)May 16, 1913
Origin Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
Died October 29, 1987(1987-10-29) (aged 74)
West Hollywood, California, United States
Genres Big band music, swing, cool jazz
Occupation(s) Bandleader, musician
Instruments Saxophone, clarinet, vocals
Associated acts Isham Jones

Woodrow Charles "Woody" Herman (May 16, 1913 – October 29, 1987) was an American jazz clarinetist, alto saxophonist, singer, and big band leader. Leading various groups called "The Herd", Herman was one of the most popular of the 1930s and 1940s bandleaders. His bands often played music that was experimental for its time. He was a featured halftime performer for Super Bowl VII.[1]

Early life and career

Herman was born Woodrow Charles Thomas Herman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 16, 1913.[2] His parents were Otto and Myrtle (Bartoszewicz) Herman.[3][4] His mother was Polish.[5] His father had a deep love for show business and this influenced Woody Herman at an early age.[6] As a child he worked as a singer and tap-dancer in Vaudeville, then started to play the clarinet and saxophone by age 12.[7] In 1931, he met Charlotte Neste, an aspiring actress;[8] they married on September 27, 1936.[9] Woody Herman joined the Tom Gerun band and his first recorded vocals were "Lonesome Me" and "My Heart's at Ease".[10] Herman also performed with the Harry Sosnick orchestra,[11] Gus Arnheim and Isham Jones.[12] Isham Jones wrote many popular songs, including "It Had to Be You" and at some point was tiring of the demands of leading a band. Jones wanted to live off the residuals of his songs; Woody Herman saw the chance to lead his former band,[13] and eventually acquired the remains of the orchestra after Jones' retirement.

The Band That Plays The Blues and the First Herd 1936–46

Woody Herman's first band became known for its orchestrations of the blues, and was sometimes billed as "The Band That Plays The Blues". This band recorded for the Decca label, at first serving as a cover band, doing songs by other Decca artists.[14] The first song recorded was "Wintertime Dreams" on November 6, 1936. In January 1937 George T. Simon closed a review of the band with the words: "This Herman outfit bears watching; not only because it's fun listening to in its present stages, but also because it's bound to reach even greater stages."[15] After two and a half years on the label, the band had its first hit, "Woodchopper's Ball" recorded in 1939.[16] Woody Herman remembered that "Woodchopper's Ball" started out slowly at first. "[I]t was really a sleeper. But Decca kept re-releasing it, and over a period of three or four years it became a hit. Eventually it sold more than five million copies—the biggest hit I ever had."[17] Other hits for the band include "The Golden Wedding" and "Blue Prelude".[18] Musicians and arrangers that stand out include Cappy Lewis on trumpet and Dean Kincaide, a big band arranger.[18]

In jazz, swing was gradually being replaced by bebop. Dizzy Gillespie, a trumpeter and one of the originators of bop, wrote three arrangements for Woody Herman, "Woody'n You", "Swing Shift" and "Down Under". These were arranged in 1942.[19] "Woody'n You" was not used at the time. "Down Under" was recorded November 8, 1943. The fact that Herman commissioned Gillespie to write arrangements for the band and that Herman hired Ralph Burns as a staff arranger, heralded a change in the style of music the band was playing.[20]

In February 1945, the band started a contract with Columbia Records.[21] Herman liked what drew many artists to Columbia, Liederkranz Hall, at the time the best recording venue in New York City. The first side Herman recorded was "Laura", the theme song of the 1944 movie of the same name.[22] Herman's version was so successful that it made Columbia hold from release the arrangement that Harry James had recorded days earlier.[23] The Columbia contract coincided with a change in the band's repertoire. The 1944 group, which he called the First Herd, was famous for its progressive jazz. The First Herd's music was heavily influenced by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Its lively, swinging arrangements, combining bop themes with swing rhythm parts, were greatly admired. As of February 1945 the personnel included Bill Harris, Sonny Berman, Pete Candoli, Billy Bauer (later replaced by Chuck Wayne), Ralph Burns, Davey Tough and Flip Phillips.[24] On February 26, 1945 in New York City, the Woody Herman band recorded "Caldonia".[25]

Neal Hefti and Ralph Burns collaborated on the arrangement of "Caldonia" that the Herman band used.[26] "Ralph caught Louis Jordan [singing "Caldonia"] in an act and wrote the opening twelve bars and the eight bar tag."[25] "But the most amazing thing on the record was a soaring eight bar passage by trumpets near the end." These eight measures have wrongly been attributed to a Gillespie solo, but were in fact originally written by Neal Hefti.[24] George T. Simon compares Hefti with Gillespie in a 1944 review for Metronome magazine saying, "Like Dizzy [...], Hefti has an abundance of good ideas, with which he has aided Ralph Burns immensely".[27]

In 1946 the band won Down Beat, Metronome, Billboard and Esquire polls for best band, nominated by their peers in the big band business.[28] Along with the high acclaim for their jazz and blues performances, classical composer Igor Stravinsky wrote the Ebony Concerto, one in a series of compositions commissioned by Herman with solo clarinet, for this band. Herman recorded this work in the Belock Recording Studio in Bayside New York.[29]

Throughout the history of jazz, there have always been musicians who sought to combine it with classical music.[30] Ebony Concerto is one in a long line of music from the twenties to the present day that seeks to do this. Herman said about the Concerto: "[The Ebony Concerto is a] very delicate and a very sad piece."[31] Stravinsky felt that the jazz musicians would have a hard time with the various time signatures. Saxophonist Flip Philips said, "During the rehearsal [...] there was a passage I had to play there and I was playing it soft, and Stravinsky said 'Play it, here I am!' and I blew it louder and he threw me a kiss!"[32] In his own original way Stravinsky noticed the massive amount of smoking at the recording session: "the atmosphere looked like Pernod clouded by water."[33] Ebony Concerto was performed live by the Herman band on March 25, 1946 at Carnegie Hall.[34]

Despite the Carnegie Hall success and other triumphs, Herman was forced to disband the orchestra in 1946 at the height of its success. This was his only financially successful band; he left it to spend more time with his wife and family. During this time, he and his family had just moved into the former Hollywood home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. One reason Herman may have disbanded was his wife Charlotte's growing problems with alcoholism and pill addiction. Charlotte Herman joined Alcoholics Anonymous and gave up everything she was addicted to. Woody said, laughing, "I went to an AA meeting with Charlotte and my old band was sitting there."[35] Many critics cite December 1946 as the actual date the big-band era ended, when seven other bands, in addition to Herman's, dissolved.[36]

The Second Herd and other bands 1947–87

In 1947, Herman organized the Second Herd. This band was also known as "The Four Brothers Band". This derives from the song recorded December 27, 1947 for Columbia records, "Four Brothers", written by Jimmy Giuffre.[37] "The 'Four Brothers' chart is based on the chord changes of 'Jeepers Creepers', and features the three-tenor, one-baritone saxophone section".[38] The order of the saxophone solos is Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward, and Stan Getz.[38] Some of the notable musicians of this band were also Al Cohn, Gene Ammons, Lou Levy, Oscar Pettiford, Terry Gibbs, and Shelly Manne.[39] Among this band's hits were "Early Autumn", and "The Goof and I". The band was popular enough that they went to Hollywood in the mid-nineteen forties. Herman and his band appear in the movie New Orleans in 1947 with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.[40] From the late 1940s to the end of his life, record labels Herman recorded for include RCA,[41] Capitol,[41] MGM[42] and Verve.[43]

Herman in 1976

Herman's other bands include the Third Herd (1950–56) and various editions of the New Thundering Herd (1959–87).[44] In the 1950s, the Third Herd went on a successful European tour.[45] He was known for hiring the best young musicians and using their arrangements.[46] In the early and mid 1960s, Herman gained a wider recognition by fronting one of the most exciting Herds to date that featured future stellar names like Michael Moore, drummer Jake Hanna, tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico, trombonists Phil Wilson and Henry Southall and trumpeters like Bill Chase, Paul Fontaine and Dusko Goykovitch. By 1968, the Herman library came to be heavily influenced by rock and roll.[47] He was also known to feature brass and woodwind instruments not traditionally associated with jazz, such as the bassoon, oboe or French horn.

In the early 1970s he toured frequently and began to work more in jazz education, offering workshops and taking on younger sidemen. For this reason he got the nickname Road Father.[48] In 1974, Woody Herman's "Young Thundering Herd" appeared without their leader for Frank Sinatra's television special The Main Event and subsequent album, The Main Event – Live. Both were recorded mainly on October 13, 1974 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.[49] On November 20, 1976, a reconstituted Woody Herman band played at Carnegie Hall in New York City, celebrating Herman's fortieth anniversary as a bandleader.[50] By the 1980s, Herman had returned to straight-ahead jazz, dropping some of the newer rock and fusion approaches.[51] Herman signed a recording contract with Concord Records around 1980, now called the Concord Music Group.[52] In 1981, John S. Wilson warmly reviewed one of Herman's first Concord recordings "Woody Herman Presents a Concord Jam, Vol. I". Wilson's review says that the recording presents a band that is less frenetic than his bands from the forties to the seventies. Instead it takes the listener back to the relaxed style of Herman's first band of the thirties that recorded for Decca.[53]

Last years

Herman continued to perform into the 1980s, after the death of his wife and with his health in decline, chiefly to pay back taxes that were owed because of his business manager's bookkeeping in the 1960s.[54] Herman owed the IRS millions of dollars and was in danger of eviction from his home.[7] With this added stress, Herman still kept performing. In a December 5, 1985, review of the band at the Blue Note jazz club for The New York Times, John S. Wilson pointed out: "In a one-hour set, Mr. Herman is able to show off his latest batch of young stars—the baritone saxophonist Mike Brignola, the bassist Bill Moring, the pianist Brad Williams, the trumpeter Ron Stout—and to remind listeners that one of his own basic charms is the dry humor with which he shouts the blues." Wilson also spoke about arrangements by Bill Holman and John Fedchock for special attention. Wilson spoke of the continuing influence of Duke Ellington on Woody Herman bands from the nineteen forties to the nineteen eighties.[55] In 1986, from December 21–23, about ten months prior to his death, Herman was a guest at a friend's house in Iowa City, Iowa. An engraved marker was inlaid next to the driveway of the location at 820 Brown Street to commemorate the occasion. Before Woody Herman died in 1987 he delegated most of his duties to leader of the reed section, Frank Tiberi.[56] Tiberi leads the current version of the Woody Herman orchestra.[57] Tiberi said at the time of Herman's death that he would not change the band's repertoire or library.[58] Herman had a Catholic funeral on November 2, 1987, at St. Victor's in West Hollywood, California.[59] He is interred in a niche in the columbarium behind the Cathedral Mausoleum in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Concord Music Group's website mentions these awards won by the various Woody Herman orchestras: "Voted best swing band in 1945 Down Beat poll; Silver Award by critics in 1946 and 1947 Esquire polls; won Metronome poll, band division, 1946 and 1953; won NARAS Grammy Award for Encore as best big band jazz album of 1963; won NARAS Grammy Award for Giant Steps as best big band jazz album of 1973."[60] Woody Herman was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.[61]

A documentary film titled Woody Herman: Blue Flame- Portrait of a Jazz Legend was released on DVD in late 2012 by the jazz documentary filmmaker Graham Carter, owner of Jazzed Media, to salute Herman and his centenary in May 2013.


  • The Woody Herman Band! (1954)
  • How Hi the Fi (1954)
  • Music For Tired Lovers (1955)
  • Songs For Hip Lovers (1957)
  • Early Autumn (1957)
  • Herman & Puente (1958)
  • The Herd Rides Again (1958)
  • Woody Herman Sextet At the Roundtable (1959)
  • The Fourth Herd (1960)
  • The New Swingin' Herman Herd (1960)
  • Encore (1963)
  • The Thundering Herds Volume 3 (1963)
  • The Swinging Herman Herd-Recorded Live(1964)
  • Woody Herman 1964 (1964)
  • Woody's Goody's (1964)
  • Woody's Herman (1965)
  • Woody's Winners (1965)
  • Woody's Herman's Greatest Hits (1966)
  • 1963 Live Guard Sessions (2013) with Sarah Vaughan
  • 40th Anniversary at Carnegie Hall (1976)
  • Antibes July 28, 1965 (1999)
  • Apple Honey (2008)
  • At Carnegie Hall, 1946 (2000)
  • Battle Royal (2006) with Charlie Barnet & Stan Kenton
  • The Best of Woody Herman (2012)
  • Big New Herd at the Monterey Jazz Festival (1999)
  • Birth of Modern Swing (1960s?)
  • Blowin’ Up a Storm: The Columbia Years (1945–47) (2001)
  • Blowin’ Up a Storm (Jazz Greats Volume 22)
  • Blues & Swing Grove (2007)
  • Blues on Parade (1998)
  • Chick, Donald, Walter, and Woodrow (1978) with Chick Corea, Donald Fagen, and Walter Becker
  • Children of Lima (1975)
  • Complete 1948–1959 Capitol Sessions (2001)
  • Concord Jazz Heritage Series (1998)
  • Ebony Concerto (2006)
  • The Essence of Woody Herman (2008)
  • The Everest Years (2005)
  • Four Brothers (2004)
  • Four Brothers 1945–1947 (2008)
  • The Fourth Herd: 1963 Summer Tour (1994)
  • From East to West (2002)
  • Get Your Boots Laced Papa: Original Recordings (1938–1943) (2003)
  • Giants of Jazz (DVD Audio + DVD Video)
  • Giant Steps (1973)
  • Golden Greats (2002)
  • Herd with Friends (2013)
  • The Herd Rides Again … In Stereo (1992)
  • Herman & Cole - California Concerts 1949 plus Nat King Cole and his Trio
  • Herman’s Heat & Puente’s Beat (1999) with Tito Puente
  • It Had to be Us (1999) with Ruby Braff
  • Jantzen Beach Oregon 1954 (1999)
  • Jazz Casual - Big Bands (2012) with the The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra
  • Jazz Hoot/Woody’s Winners (2001)
  • Jazz Masters 54 (2004)
  • Jazz Swinger/Music for Tired Lovers (2001)
  • Jazz Years, Vol. 1 (1999)
  • King Cobra (1976)
  • Legendary Big Bands Series (2000)
  • Let’s Go to Town (2009) with Mindy Carson & Georgia Gibbs
  • Light My Fire (1969) live in Rome, Italy, May 1969
  • Light My Fire (2000)
  • Live 1957 Vol. 1 (2000)
  • Live 1957 Vol. 2 (2000)
  • Live at Montreaux (1975)
  • Live at Newport 3 July 1966 (2001)
  • Live in Warsaw (2000)
  • Mosaic Select (2009)
  • Music for Tired Lovers (2007) with Erroll Garner
  • Old Gold Rehearsals (2001)
  • One Night Stand: Live at the Hollywood Palladium (2003)
  • Presenting … Woody Herman (2007)
  • Presents Volume 2 … Fours Others (1993)
  • The Radio Years (1940-1941) (2000)
  • Road Band (2006)
  • Second Herd - 1948 (2000)
  • Seen & Herd in 1952 (2013)
  • Sings Ballads and Blues (1945–1947) (2005)
  • Sings Songs for Hip Lovers (2009)
  • Standard Times - The Third Herd (1951–1952) (2002)
  • The Swinging Herd (2012)
  • That’s Where It Is (2011)
  • The Third Herd Live 1951 (2000)
  • The Third Herd ‘Live’ 1952 (2012)
  • The 3 Herds (2011)
  • The Thundering Herds 1945–1947 (1995)
  • The Thundering Herd: Original Recordings 1945-1947 (2005)
  • This Is Jazz (1997)
  • Thundering Herd (1994)
  • V Disc Years Vol’s 1 & 2 (2008)
  • Wailin’ with Woody (2000)
  • Who Dat Up Dere? (1999)
  • Wildroot (2001)
  • Woodsheddin’ with Woody (2006)
  • Woody Herman ‘58 (2007)
  • Woody Herman 1963 (2002)
  • Woody Herman and his Orchestra, 1956 (2000)
  • The Woody Herman Band! (2006)
  • The Woody Herman Shows 1944–1946 (2003)
  • The Woody Herman Story (4-CD box set, 2000)
  • Woody’s Gold Star (1990)
  • Woody’s Winners (2007)


  1. "1973 Super Bowl VII". Super-bowl-history.us. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  2. Lees, Gene (1997). Leader of the Band. Oxford University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-19-511574-0.
  3. Lees 5
  4. Woody Herman changed the spelling of the familial name.
  5. "a cordial welcome to jazzsight". Jazzsight.com. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  6. Visser, Joop (2000). The Woody Herman Story liner notes. Kent, England: Proper. p. 7.
  7. 1 2 "Woody Herman Biography - Music Artist Band Biographies - Artists Bands Bio - FREE MP3 Downloads". Music.us. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
  8. Clancy, William D (1995). Woody Herman: Chronicle of the Herds. Music Sales Corp. p. 4. ISBN 0-8256-7244-9.
  9. Visser 12
  10. Clancy 15
  11. Clancy 16
  12. Clancy 17
  13. Clancy 20
  14. Visser 14
  15. Simon, George T. (1971). Simon Says: The Sights and Sounds of the Swing Era. New York: Galahad Books. p. 73. ISBN 0-88365-001-0.
  16. Visser 14-15
  17. "Woody Herman Biography". Net Industries. 2009.
  18. 1 2 Visser 17
  19. Visser 19
  20. Visser 19-21
  21. Visser 25
  22. "Soundtracks For Laura". Internet Movie Data Base.
  23. Visser 24-25
  24. 1 2 Lees 109
  25. 1 2 Clancy 68
  26. McLellan, Dennis (October 15, 2008). "Ex-big band trumpeter, arranger and composer". Los Angeles Times.
  27. Simon Says 201
  28. Clancy 90
  29. Liner notes of the re-release by the Everest Recording Group Inc. in 1959, and released in January 1959 as SDBR 3009. The recording has been released on a CD by Everest EVC 9049.
  30. "Jazz and Stravinsky". BBC. 2009.
  31. Clancy 88
  32. Clancy 89
  33. "Jazz and Stravinsky"
  34. "Classical Arts". Center for Jazz Arts. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
  35. Lees 147
  36. "Finally, in December, 1946, almost a dozen years after Benny Goodman had blown the first signs of life into the big band bubble, that bubble burst with a concerted bang. Inside of just a few weeks, eight of the nation's top bandleaders called it quits-some temporarily, some permanently". George T. Simon The Big Bands Schirmer Books, New York. 1981. p.32 ISBN 0-02-872420-8.
  37. Clancy 120
  38. 1 2 Clancy 121
  39. "New Orleans (1947)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
  40. 1 2 "Woody Herman Biography"
  41. "MGM Album Discography, Part 1 10-inch LPs". Mike Callahan, David Edwards and Peter Preuss. 2000.
  42. "Woody Herman 'Songs For Hip Lovers' 1957". Verve Music Group. 1999–2009.
  43. "Woody Herman". Verve Music Group. 1999–2009.
  44. Clancy 192
  45. Clancy 275
  46. Clancy 271
  47. Michael James & Barry Kernfeld. "Woody Herman". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
  48. Clancy 291
  49. Clancy 299
  50. Clancy 312-313
  51. Wilson, 1981
  52. Wilson, John S. (March 15, 1981). "Woody Herman Jamming As Old". The New York Times.
  53. Lees 272
  54. Wilson, John S. (December 5, 1985). "Jazz: Woody Herman's Band". The New York Times.
  55. "Bio". Franktiberi.com. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
  56. Archived March 6, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  57. Clancy 397
  58. Lees 368
  59. "Labels:". Concord Music Group. 2012-01-03. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
  60. Archived February 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.

External links

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